4A – Dark American Lager

Dark American Lager is basically a dark pale lager that may have some residual sweetness from caramel malts and light roasted notes from the coloring malt. Many of the commercial examples are imports that don’t have enough flavor to make it into the other styles in this category. It is the least flavorful of the three styles in the Dark Lager category although some of the craft-brewed examples may have more body and flavor than the mass market examples. Many of these beers are made with coloring agents that darken the beer but do not add any substantial flavor to the base American lager.

  • Aroma: There is little or no malt aroma in a dark American lager, although the beer may show some caramel or roasted notes. The caramel notes would be from caramel malts added to impart a slight sweetness and the roasted aromas, if present, come from the malts used to color the beer. Hop aroma is low when present with a light spicy or floral aspects. It may have some yeast derived characteristics such as acetaldehyde, DMS, or fruitiness. Diacetyl is not appropriate.
  • Appearance: Dark American lagers are deep amber to dark brown with ruby highlights. Crystal clear with an off-white to tan head that may withdraw quickly.
  • Flavor: The flavor may include low or moderate sweetness from caramel malt with some caramel flavors present also. Roasted flavors such as coffee or cocoa may be present when roasted malts are used to color the beer. Hop flavors may be low to none and the bitterness will be low to medium, just enough to balance the light sweetness. There may be some fruitiness present but will not have any diacetyl. Strong roasted flavors are considered a fault.
  • Mouthfeel: These beers exhibit a light to medium body with a smooth crisp finish. Carbonation is usually high, up to 3 volumes.
  • Overall Impression: The American Dark lager is a slightly sweeter version of a standard/premium lager with a little more flavor and body.
  • Comments: There are a lot of import styles that fit into this category. If they are somewhat dark without much flavor, they will fit here nicely. These beers will not be highly hopped and will not have any strong roasty notes. To keep malt character low, use a domestic two-row malt and an adjunct such as rice which will not impart much flavor. Although this is an American lager, the bittering hop should be a clean noble hop or noble hop derivative. Be careful which hop you choose, as some will seem inappropriate. When choosing the malt for coloring this beer, stick to the debittered black malt to keep the roasted flavors down.
  • Ingredients: American two or six-row barley with corn or preferably rice as an adjunct. A very small percentage of caramel and dark malts may be used with caution. Commercial mass market versions may use syrups or other coloring agents.
  • Vital Statistics: OG: 1.044 – 1.056 FG: 1.008 – 1.012 IBUs: 8-20 SRM: 14-22 ABV: 4.2 – 6%.
  • Commercial Examples: Dixie Blackened Voodoo, Shiner Bock, San Miguel Dark, Baltika #4, Beck’s Dark, Saint Pauli Girl Dark, Warsteiner Dunkel, Heineken Dark Lager, Crystal Diplomat Dark Beer

References: Information for this page was adapted from the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines and Brewing Classic Styles, 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.